NEW YORK (AP) — A small park built on a site that was once a swampy, sewage-filled pond was ground zero for the frenzy surrounding former President Donald Trump’s surrender Tuesday at a courthouse in Lower Manhattan.
Hundreds of onlookers, protesters, journalists and a few politicians swarmed into the confines of Collect Pond Park across the street from the criminal courthouse, where Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts. Ultimately, though, hardly anyone got a glimpse of Trump: He entered and left the courthouse out of view of demonstrators gathered in the park.
The crowd was small, by the standards of New York City protests, which routinely draw thousands. And fears that unruly mobs might force police to shut down swaths of the city proved to be unfounded, with security measures mostly disappearing within a couple of blocks.
But within the park and the surrounding sidewalks, there was plenty of chaos.
Metal barricades separated Trump supporters from anti-Trump protesters, and police stepped in to break up small skirmishes. Journalists, some of whom had taken turns waiting in line all night to reserve a coveted seat in the courtroom, pressed in on notable figures who appeared.
Whistles and jeers from anti-Trump protesters nearly drowned out remarks by U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, who had come to support Trump. But she drew cheers from the pro-Trump contingent before making a fast exit as journalists jostled for position around her.
Also on hand to support Trump was U.S. Rep. George Santos, the besieged Republican congressman facing multiple investigations into lies about his biography that he told while running for office.
“I’m not here for the cameras,” he insisted to reporters. “I want to support the president, just because I think this is unprecedented, and it’s a bad day for democracy.”
The crowds grew larger in the moments leading up to Trump’s arrival at the courthouse to become the first president or former president in U.S. history to face criminal charges.
But the energy of the crowd faded as the hours passed Tuesday, and after it was clear Trump had departed, the park started to empty out quickly.
New York police had said they were ready for large protests by Trump supporters, who share the Republican former president’s belief that the New York grand jury indictment and three additional pending investigations are politically motivated and intended to weaken his bid to retake the White House in 2024.
A few hundred did show up to support Trump on Tuesday, waving Trump flags and wearing “Make America Great Again” hats.
But security was loose enough in the neighborhood that plenty of passers-by walked through the park just to see what was going on.
One woman went through what looked like a Tai Chi routine, steadfastly ignoring the reporters.
At one point, a tour guide led a group of tourists through the area. The guide stopped to take photos of the scene, then continued on. Others lingered after wandering near the large pack of journalists.
Kyle Heath, 37, from Carmel, Indiana, was in the city for a family vacation that had been planned for some time. He walked through the park amid the throngs of journalists, taking it all in.
“We wanted to come down and kind of witness what was going on, and say that we were as close to it as we could be,” Heath said. “In Indiana, we don’t have this much excitement.”
In the late 1700s, Collect Pond Park was the site of a small body of water that had become an open sewer as the city grew. It was filled in in the early 1800s, but for decades was part of Manhattan’s notorious “Five Points” slum, known for gang warfare.
A different sort of tension ran high around the courthouse and park Tuesday as news media jostled for position. Television networks hired security personnel who pushed people away. Some reporters had begun lining up for a seat in the courtroom on Monday afternoon, and stayed there all night or paid others to hold their place.
A small skirmish erupted when anti-Trump protesters unfurled a large banner that read “TRUMP LIES ALL THE TIME” in the middle of a Trump supporters. Police quickly diffused the scene.
“I think it’s very important. I think it’s very symbolic, you know, it shows that at least in New York with the DA that no man is above the law,” said Gregory Williams, 57, who showed up with a life- size cutout of Hillary Clinton and a handmade sign saying “Lock Him Up.”
Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.